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"Reed Tuning"

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This is the article by Jay Nistetter of Rhino Calls:


One of the most common questions seems to be "How do I tune a reed?"


The following text may help somewhat. The article written for Trapper and Predator Caller and was supplemented with lots of close-up photos. If you want to see the exact How-To, you will need to track down the magazine issue from early this year.




OK. Let’s skip a few chapters and discuss the most important tool for calling up varmints. That tool is the predator call itself. For this article I will concentrate on closed reed calls. Let me break it down even further and discuss the teeny, tiny voice found inside the predator call, which is the driving force behind attracting those wary critters into view.



A voice consists of a thin piece of metal or plastic called a blade. The blade rests on a tone board. As air passes over the thin stock, it causes the reed to vibrate against the tone board. Air is forced to pass through an air channel that is incorporated into the tone board. A small amount of backpressure is created and is controlled by the intensity of the airflow. Controlling the airflow cause changes in tone, and volume. Backpressure is further controlled by the call body design and use of the hands. The end of the voice has a split in its design, which allows it to snugly fit into a call body. Should a reed become loose, the split allows it to be widened to re-establish a tight fit inside the call.



All sounds will attract animals whether they are predators or prey. Dogs, cats, deer, birds, neighbors all come to various sounds. Many times my neighbors have come wandering outside in attempts to figure out just what the heck they were hearing. More than once some lady has come rushing out of her home to rescue a crying baby only to find me tuning a reed for one of my predator calls. Since I am more interested in calling predatory animals instead of my neighbors, I need to adjust the sound by tuning my reed.


What does tuning a reed really mean? Many of us have heard about tuning a reed and some of us can even describe what tuning a reed involves to some degree. Tuning a reed is not difficult. It can be done at your leisure while sitting around your campfire or watching the ballgame on TV. You can’t do it while driving to work because you need two free hands.


Certain sounds typically work better when targeting certain species. Fine-tuning a sound will help you to be even more successful in “bringing in” your targeted specie. The more successful callers know this and use it to their advantage. It is impossible to put down in words the sound objective. Establishing a proper sound takes many failures to determine what works the best for your style of calling.


I can make your personal call sound much different than you because I blow a call differently. I cup my hands different. The intensity is different. The cadence is different. Everything is different. With this in mind, I will tune a call by utilizing the generally accepted criteria that beginning callers should employ when calling predatory wildlife. If I had to put a sound down in words it would go something like this…. “Waaa, Waaa, Waaa. Owww, Owww, Owww”.

For the moment we will assume that everyone knows the proper way to remove and install reeds into their calls. (If you are unsure, reeds are always inserted and removed through the mouth-piece end of the call.)


Most enclosed reed calls use reeds that are made by JC Products. Faulk’s makes their own reeds from the old tooling used by Wintriss from years gone by. This tooling was designed initially for brass reeds. Several call makers offer reed replacement kits should your call need a sound overhaul.





Reeds are very fragile. Care should be exercised when handling. Many times reeds are ruined by careless handling. Once the thin reed material is bent, there is no way to repair the damage.





Reeds can be scored to make the pitch higher by creasing the thin blade with a thumbnail or a pocketknife blade.

Using Your Thumbnail:


Using A Knife:


Reeds can be shaved thinner to achieve different sounds. The old school of thought was “thinner-is-better”. Contest callers would shave the blades so thin that many times the reeds would split. This was disastrous when competing in a calling contest. In order to make the reeds sturdier and keep them from splitting during some crucial moment, a single drop of airplane glue was oftentimes placed on the "flat" of the reed near the base. (trick of the trade)


Using A Knife:

A knife is placed perpendicular to the reed and scraped across the metal to shave away small amounts of metal.

Using A File:

Reeds can be filed to make them thinner producing a raspier sound. The photo shows how an Emery board is used to take off metal from the reed edges. After you have finished tuning your reed, it is extremely important to remember to carefully replace the Emery board back where you found it. If your wife or girlfriend confronts you about using it, always reply… “Emery who?”



The following photograph shows how a razor blade is slid between the body channel and the reed until the razor blade stops. Sometimes thumb pressure is applied by pressing down on the reed flat to form a pronounced ridge. This raising of the reed causes a raspier sound.


The dimples on the top reed, which prevents the two thin blades from sticking together, easily identify double reed voices. Double reed voices must be bladed in between the two thin blades in order to adjust the sound and tone. The result is a real nice sound but the drawback is that it is now easier to over-blow and lock up the two reeds. The tendency of new callers is to over blow anyway and this reed would be an effective tool in teaching beginners NOT to over blow.


The end of the voice body is equipped with a slot used for adjusting the compression fit to the call body. Sometimes a voice may become loose and fall out. If this is the case, the diameter needs to be enlarged. This is accomplished simply by placing a knife blade in the slot to slightly pry it open.


It is inevitable that a caller will fiddle with the reed in his call at some point in time (more than once). This "curiosity" instinct generally results in a ruined reed. After a few phone calls and a couple trips to the sporting goods store, a new reed is acquired and Mr. Fiddle Fingers is just about back in business. Well, almost. The first attempt in installing a new voice is the tendency to push the voice into the call body too tightly. This crushes the metal gap of the slot together and in extreme cases causes them to overlap. The resulting sound (if any) from the newly refurbished call is horrible. In this case, the voice needs to be carefully removed and the slot recreated by using a knife blade to restore a gap.


I had one fellow tell me a very sad story of how he followed all of my instructions and tuned his reed to perfection. He was very careful not to damage the fragile blade. He was completely confused as to why his call didn’t work when he put his newly tuned reed back into his call. When I quizzed him as to the problem he encountered, he explained that his call would not make any sound when he blew into it and how it only made sounds when he sucked on it like a straw. I just walked away thinking there’s a lot more work for me to do.

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